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Link between cyclones and climate change unclear: scientists

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PARIS — Was Hurricane Sandy caused by climate change?

This was the contention Tuesday of Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York state, which bore the brunt of the superstorm.

“Anyone who thinks there isn’t a change in weather patterns is denying reality,” he said.

Many climate scientists would agree with Cuomo when it comes to identifying the cause of the record-breaking droughts and floods of recent years.

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But when it comes to tropical storms, the experts also say they cannot give a black-or-white answer for one of the most complex issues in meteorology.

Tropical storms are fuelled by warm seas, so intuition says that as ocean temperatures rise, hurricanes — known as typhoons in Asia — should become more frequent and more brutal.

But a clear rise in Earth’s surface temperature since the 1970s has so far failed to engender a similar increase in tropical cyclone numbers, which have remained stable at about 90 per year.

In the Atlantic alone, however, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says major storms have become more frequent and intense since 1995.

The agency also warns that science right now cannot tease out how much of the change should be attributed to natural climate variability, and how much to man-made warming.

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As for the future, experts give conflicting or sketchy predictions of what could happen this century, when surface temperatures are predicted to warm two or three degrees Celsius (3.5 to five degrees Fahrenheit).

“There is some evidence to suggest that with climate change we might see stronger wind speeds but that the overall number of tropical cyclones (will show) no change or maybe even go down a little bit,” said Tom Mitchell, head of climate change at Britain’s Overseas Development Institute.

Serge Planton, head of climate research at French weather forecasting service Meteo France, explained why the picture is so fuzzy.

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“It’s a very complex phenomenon,” he said.

“A cyclone depends not only on the sea surface temperature, but also on the structure of the winds at every layer of the atmosphere. This means it does not respond in a simple, linear fashion to climate change.”

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When it comes to storm surge, there seems to be more scientific consensus that climate change’s impact is clear.

Sandy’s swells were entirely consistent with scenarios sketched by the UN’s Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in a report on extreme weather events, published in March, contended Mitchell.

“What the IPCC said there is with sea level rising a little bit already and with the potential for stronger storms, we are likelier to see surges increasing.”

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Mitchell was a coordinating lead author in the report.

“At some level, we can point to the climate change signal in that,” he said.

“The examples that we are seeing in New York today of very considerable storm surges are directly in line with the predictions of the IPCC.”

The IPCC report had said it was also likely that tropical cyclones will increase rainfall this century, and placed a heavy emphasis on preparedness to reduce the risk to lives and property.

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Moon may be richer in water than thought — and it could help propel humans farther from earth

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There may be far more water on the Moon than previously thought, according to two studies published Monday raising the tantalising prospect that astronauts on future space missions could find refreshment -- and maybe even fuel -- on the lunar surface.

The Moon was believed to be bone dry until around a decade ago when a series of findings suggested that our nearest celestial neighbour has traces of water trapped in the surface.

Two new studies published in Nature Astronomy on Monday suggest there could be much more water than previously thought, including ice stored in permanently shadowed "cold traps" at lunar polar regions.

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Asymptomatic coronaagvirus sufferers lose antibodies sooner: study

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Asymptomatic coronavirus sufferers appear to lose detectable antibodies sooner than people who have exhibited Covid-19 symptoms, according to one of the biggest studies of its kind in Britain published on Tuesday.

The findings by Imperial College London and market research firm Ipsos Mori also suggest the loss of antibodies was slower in 18–24 year-olds compared to those aged 75 and over.

Overall, samples from hundreds of thousands of people across England between mid-June and late September showed the prevalence of virus antibodies fell by more than a quarter.

The research, commissioned by the British government and published Tuesday by Imperial, indicates people's immune response to Covid-19 reduces over time following infection.

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2020 Election

Early voting to be hit by heavy rain and flooding as Hurricane Zeta barrels towards the Gulf Coast

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Hurricane Zeta is expected to make landfall near Louisiana's border with Mississippi on Wednesday evening as campaigns work to get supporters to the polls and convince any undecided voters to back their candidate.

"Hurricane conditions and life-threatening storm surge are possible along portions of the northern Gulf Coast on Wednesday, and Storm Surge and Hurricane Watches are in effect," the National Hurricane Center warned.

"Between Tuesday night and Thursday, heavy rainfall is expected from portions of the central Gulf Coast into the southern Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic states near and in advance of Zeta. This rainfall will lead to flash, urban, small stream, and minor river flooding," the center explained.

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